"Do Immigrants Receive Public Benefits?
Eric Pavri has been an immigration lawyer for eight years and is currently the Director of Family Immigration Services at Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. In a Facebook post, he provides answers to this question. The following paragraphs are almost word for word from his post, formatted for readability:
Only a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) can receive almost all types of public benefit – including Medicaid, Medicare, SSI disability, Social Security payments for seniors, TANF, and food stamps.
The irony: most undocumented immigrants work under made-up Social Security numbers and so receive a paycheck from which Social Security, federal income taxes, and state income taxes are withheld, and of course they pay the same local sales and property taxes as anyone else through retail purchases, pass-through costs of apartment leases, etc. Same of course goes for the 800,000 current DACA recipients, who are authorized to legally work in the U.S. But none of those employees, despite paying IN to the system, will ever receive those public benefits listed above, that are paid for by the money withheld from their paychecks. So they are propping up our federal and state government entitlement programs because they pay in but won’t ever take out.
The following are the public benefits that undocumented immigrants can receive in United States:
- Public education for children in grades K-12. This was definitively established by a 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe. The Supreme Court in its reasoning explicitly stated that it would not serve the overall public good of the U.S. to leave many thousands of children uneducated.
- Emergency room services, but only to the point where the patient is considered “medically stable”, at which point he/she is released. These services are not free, however, as in my job I meet hundreds of immigrant families who sacrifice over years to slowly pay off high emergency room medical bills.
- WIC assistance. This is for milk, food, etc., and available only to pregnant mothers. The rationale is that the children in the womb will be U.S. citizens when born, and therefore it is in the long-term economic best interests of the nation to ensure that they receive adequate prenatal nutrition to improve their chances of being productive citizens in the decades to come.
- Assistance from police if they are the victim of a crime and call for help. To their credit, the vast majority of our Colorado Springs law enforcement officers take their duty to protect all people seriously. Chief Carey of the CSPD and Sheriff Elder of the EPCSO have made clear that their officers can’t do their most important job – keeping us safe by getting dangerous criminals off our streets – if a whole class of people (undocumented immigrants) is afraid to call 911 to report crimes that they witness or are victim to.
- Assistance from a fire department. Rationale, besides the obvious moral one: If your house was next to that of an undocumented immigrant family, would you want the firefighters to let that house continue to burn, putting yours at risk of catching on fire too?
And that’s it. Those, to the best of my knowledge, are the only public benefits that an undocumented immigrant can receive in just about any part of the United States. As someone who directs a small office that works with hundreds of low-income immigrant families per year, know that when I see the precarious economic situation of many of these families, I'd help them access other benefits if they could. But they simply can't. Now, children of undocumented parents, born in the U.S., are U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment (the one that declares that all human beings born on U.S. soil are citizens – this was passed immediately after the Civil War to forever end the legal argument that African Americans were not U.S. citizens). As such, those children can qualify for the same public benefits as any other U.S. citizen, if they qualify through economic need or disability. But their parents or undocumented siblings cannot.